Updated

Noise Isolation/Cancellation of Headphones

What it is: How much outside noise is blocked out by putting the headphones on.
When it matters: If the headphones are going to be used in a noisy envinronment (airplane, subway, etc.)
Score components:

Noise isolation is the headphones' ability to block ambient noise passively and/or actively.

Passive Isolation is a physical contribution to isolation and depends on headphone or earbud design. Typically, more padding on the ear cups or earbuds results in better passive isolation.

Active cancellation refers to the noise cancelling technology that enhances isolation by nullifying sounds that seep into the headphones.  Well-isolated headphones provide a noise-free listening experience even in loud environments or on busy commutes.

For noise cancelling performance, we test the overall attenuation, bass, mid and treble attenuation and self-noise. 

Test result

When it matters

If you’re often in noisy environments, a well-isolated pair of headphones, will keep the ambient noise from distracting you from your listening experience.

Although listening at high volumes naturally overpowers ambient noise of lesser amplitudes, more active and passive isolation is required at lower volumes, or if the headphones are simply used to block sound to make it easier to focus.

Poor noise isolation can be a significant issue, depending on the loudness of your environment.  Urban commutes and international travel are examples of when you might require good noise isolation.

Our tests

Overall Attenuation

What it is: The overall amount of environmental noise reduction in dB.
When it matters: In loud envinronments like planes, trains, offices, etc.
Good value: <-20dB
Noticeable difference: 1dB

[Coming soon]


Bass

What it is: The overall amount of noise isolation in the bass range (20Hz-250Hz).
When it matters: When the outside noise is bass-heavy, like in airplanes.
Good value: <-15dB
Noticeable difference: 1dB

[Coming soon]


Mid

What it is: The overall amount of noise isolation in the mid-range (250Hz-2.5KHz).
When it matters: When the environment's noise is mid-heavy, like in an office.
Good value: <-15dB
Noticeable difference: 1dB

[Coming soon]


Treble

What it is: The overall amount of noise isolation in the treble range (2.5KHz-20KHz).
When it matters: When the environment's noise is treble-heavy. Although uncommon, areas with sharp sounds fall under this category.
Good value: <-30dB
Noticeable difference: 1dB

[Coming soon]


Self-Noise

What it is: The amount of noise created by the active electronics of the headphones (if applicable), measured from 200Hz-20KHz. Applies mostly to wireless and noise-cancelling headphones.
When it matters: If too loud, it could become distracting when listening to quiet material like podcasts and audiobooks.
Good value: <18dB
Noticeable difference: 1dB

[Coming soon]

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Questions & Answers

1 ANSWERED QUESTIONS
0
Should you be able to expect a headphone like the Bose QuietComfort 35 to block out talking in a cubicle office setting?
For all intents and purposes, the QC35 will block out the conversation in an office environment. Meaning they will block out the outside noise enough so that you won't be distracted by them. Actually, the amount of noise-cancelling on these headphones can be a bit unsettling at first. Which could be considered a down side if you want to use them where you need to monitor your environment, since you can't turn off their noise-cancelling. But they don't block out all the noise 'completely', and no noise-cancelling headphones exist that can really do that.
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